Anthrax: Public health response plan for Australia


Page last updated: 05 December 2012

1. Introduction

In 2002, the Australian Government and state and territory governments signed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) designed to enhance Australia’s counter-terrorism capability through cooperative partnership. The IGA recognises joint responsibility for the national counter-terrorism capability. The agreement gives the Australian Government responsibility for determining policy and broad strategies in a declared national terrorist situation, in close consultation with affected states and territories. The IGA established the National Counter-Terrorism Committee and national strategy supported through the National Counter-Terrorism Plan and the National Counter-Terrorism Handbook. State and territory governments have a primary operational role in dealing with terrorist situations in their jurisdictions.

The Australian Government’s Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN) and associated plans, which set out the Government’s primary operational response to disasters, is administered by Emergency Management Australia (EMA) on behalf of the Attorney-General and is available online at Attorney-General's website.

In February 2003, the Australian Health Disaster Management Policy Committee (now known as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)) was established by the Australian Health Ministers’ Council to better coordinate national health emergency responses, particularly mass casualty events. This group is chaired by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA). It is supported by the Attorney-General’s Department’s, Emergency Management Australia and the Australian Government Department of Defence, and includes the Chief Health Officers of all states and territories.

In the event of an attack using anthrax in Australia, the AHPPC would quickly be convened, and become the primary, high-level, National-State health decision-making body. It would provide advice about the capacity of states and territories to deal with the health consequences of an incident and coordinate assistance between the Australian Government and the states and territories. This may include, for example, the use of the National Medical Stockpile or the transfer of patients between states.

DoHA is developing an overall CBRN Incidents of National Consequence Plan in line with the principles of the IGA and the department’s lead role. This document ‘Guidelines for preparedness, response and management following the deliberate release of Bacillus anthracis’, a working document subject to revision, is part of this strategy. All state and territory health authorities are expected to maintain emergency management plans and capabilities to respond to bioterrorist incidents.

The deliberate release of B. anthracis spores into the environment in Australia would constitute a major public-health emergency. The public health consequences and the public’s reaction would be significant and it is essential that contingency plans are available nationally and locally should such a release occur.

Purpose of this document

These guidelines outline overall policy in relation to national codes of alert for an anthrax threat or release, and the implementation of specific measures such as public education campaigns and deployment of antibiotics. They present nationally agreed case definitions and response plans, which will allow national comparison and international reporting. The guidelines also provide details, which in practice may vary between jurisdictions, of the operational aspects of a response, and suggested levels of authority within jurisdictions.
These guidelines are based on the best information available at the date of compilation. As it is likely that the guidelines will require revision in the future, it is recommended that readers check for updates on the Australian Government DoHA website.